Document Review and Proportionality – Part Two

March 28, 2018

This is a continuation of a blog that I started last week. Suggest you read Part One before this.

Simplified Six Step Review Plan for Small and Medium Sized Cases or Otherwise Where Predictive Coding is Not Used

Here is the workflow for the simplified six-step plan. The first three steps repeat until you have a viable plan where the costs estimate is proportional under Rule 26(b)(1).

Step One: Multimodal Search

The document review begins with Multimodal Search of the ESI. Multimodal means that all modes of search are used to try to find relevant documents. Multimodal search uses a variety of techniques in an evolving, iterated process. It is never limited to a single search technique, such as keyword. All methods are used as deemed appropriate based upon the data to be reviewed and the software tools available. The basic types of search are shown in the search pyramid.

search_pyramid_revisedIn Step One we use a multimodal approach, but we typically begin with keyword and concept searches. Also, in most projects we will run similarity searches of all kinds to make the review more complete and broaden the reach of the keyword and concept searches. Sometimes we may even use a linear search, expert manual review at the base of the search pyramid. For instance, it might be helpful to see all communications that a key witness had on a certain day. The two-word stand-alone call me email when seen in context can sometimes be invaluable to proving your case.

I do not want to go into too much detail of the types of searches we do in this first step because each vendor’s document review software has different types of searches built it. Still, the basic types of search shown in the pyramid can be found in most software, although AI, active machine learning on top, is still only found in the best.

History of Multimodal Search

Professor Marcia Bates

Multimodal search, wherein a variety of techniques are used in an evolving, iterated process, is new to the legal profession, but not to Information Science. That is the field of scientific study which is, among many other things, concerned with computer search of large volumes of data. Although the e-Discovery Team’s promotion of multimodal search techniques to find evidence only goes back about ten years, Multimodal is a well-established search technique in Information Science. The pioneer professor who first popularized this search method was Marcia J. Bates, and her article, The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface, 13 Online Info. Rev. 407, 409–11, 414, 418, 421–22 (1989). Professor Bates of UCLA did not use the term multimodal, that is my own small innovation, instead she coined the word “berrypicking” to describe the use of all types of search to find relevant texts. I prefer the term “multimodal” to “berrypicking,” but they are basically the same techniques.

In 2011 Marcia Bates explained in Quora her classic 1989 article and work on berrypicking:

An important thing we learned early on is that successful searching requires what I called “berrypicking.” . . .

Berrypicking involves 1) searching many different places/sources, 2) using different search techniques in different places, and 3) changing your search goal as you go along and learn things along the way. . . .

This may seem fairly obvious when stated this way, but, in fact, many searchers erroneously think they will find everything they want in just one place, and second, many information systems have been designed to permit only one kind of searching, and inhibit the searcher from using the more effective berrypicking technique.

Marcia J. Bates, Online Search and Berrypicking, Quora (Dec. 21, 2011). Professor Bates also introduced the related concept of an evolving search. In 1989 this was a radical idea in information science because it departed from the established orthodox assumption that an information need (relevance) remains the same, unchanged, throughout a search, no matter what the user might learn from the documents in the preliminary retrieved set. The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface. Professor Bates dismissed this assumption and wrote in her 1989 article:

In real-life searches in manual sources, end users may begin with just one feature of a broader topic, or just one relevant reference, and move through a variety of sources.  Each new piece of information they encounter gives them new ideas and directions to follow and, consequently, a new conception of the query.  At each stage they are not just modifying the search terms used in order to get a better match for a single query.  Rather the query itself (as well as the search terms used) is continually shifting, in part or whole.   This type of search is here called an evolving search.

Furthermore, at each stage, with each different conception of the query, the user may identify useful information and references. In other words, the query is satisfied not by a single final retrieved set, but by a series of selections of individual references and bits of information at each stage of the ever-modifying search. A bit-at-a-time retrieval of this sort is here called berrypicking. This term is used by analogy to picking huckleberries or blueberries in the forest. The berries are scattered on the bushes; they do not come in bunches. One must pick them one at a time. One could do berrypicking of information without  the search need itself changing (evolving), but in this article the attention is given to searches that combine both of these features.

I independently noticed evolving search as a routine phenomena in legal search and only recently found Professor Bates’ prior descriptions. I have written about this often in the field of legal search (although never previously crediting Professor Bates) under the names “concept drift” or “evolving relevance.” See Eg. Concept Drift and Consistency: Two Keys To Document Review Quality – Part Two (e-Discovery Team, 1/24/16). Also see Voorhees, Variations in Relevance Judgments and the Measurement of Retrieval Effectiveness, 36 Info. Processing & Mgmt  697 (2000) at page 714.

SIDE NOTE: The somewhat related term query drift in information science refers to a different phenomena in machine learning. In query drift  the concept of document relevance unintentionally changes from the use of indiscriminate pseudorelevance feedback. Cormack, Buttcher & Clarke, Information Retrieval Implementation and Evaluation of Search Engines (MIT Press 2010) at pg. 277. This can lead to severe negative relevance feedback loops where the AI is trained incorrectly. Not good. If that happens a lot of other bad things can and usually do happen. It must be avoided.

Yes. That means that skilled humans must still play a key role in all aspects of the delivery and production of goods and services, lawyers too.

UCLA Berkeley Professor Bates first wrote about concept shift when using early computer assisted search in the late 1980s. She found that users might execute a query, skim some of the resulting documents, and then learn things which slightly changes their information need. They then refine their query, not only in order to better express their information need, but also because the information need itself has now changed. This was a new concept at the time because under the Classical Model Of Information Retrieval an information need is single and unchanging. Professor Bates illustrated the old Classical Model with the following diagram.

The Classical Model was misguided. All search projects, including the legal search for evidence, are an evolving process where the understanding of the information need progresses, improves, as the information is reviewed. See diagram below for the multimodal berrypicking type approach. Note the importance of human thinking to this approach.

See Cognitive models of information retrieval (Wikipedia). As this Wikipedia article explains:

Bates argues that searches are evolving and occur bit by bit. That is to say, a person constantly changes his or her search terms in response to the results returned from the information retrieval system. Thus, a simple linear model does not capture the nature of information retrieval because the very act of searching causes feedback which causes the user to modify his or her cognitive model of the information being searched for.

Multimodal search assumes that the information need evolves over the course of a document review. It is never just run one search and then review all of the documents found in the search. That linear approach was used in version 1.0 of predictive coding, and is still used by most lawyers today. The dominant model in law today is linear, wherein a negotiated list of keyword is used to run one search. I called this failed method “Go Fish” and a few judges, like Judge Peck, picked up on that name. Losey, R., Adventures in Electronic Discovery (West 2011); Child’s Game of ‘Go Fish’ is a Poor Model for e-Discovery Search; Moore v. Publicis Groupe & MSL Group, 287 F.R.D. 182, 190-91, 2012 WL 607412, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012) (J. Peck).

The popular, but ineffective Go Fish approach is like the Classical Information Retrieval Model in that only a single list of keywords is used as the query. The keywords are not refined over time as the documents are reviewed. This is a mono-modal process. It is contradicted by our evolving multimodal process, Step One in our Six-Step plan. In the first step we run many, many searches and review some of the results of each search, some of the documents, and then change the searches accordingly.

Step Two: Tests, Sample

Each search run is sampled by quick reviews and its effectiveness evaluated, tested. For instance, did a search of what you expected would be an unusual word turn up far more hits than anticipated? Did the keyword show up in all kinds of documents that had nothing to do with the case? For example, a couple of minutes of review might show that what you thought would be a carefully and rarely used word, Privileged, was in fact part of the standard signature line of one custodian. All his emails had the keyword Privileged on them. The keyword in these circumstances may be a surprise failure, at least as to that one custodian. These kind of unexpected language usages and surprise failures are commonplace, especially with neophyte lawyers.

Sampling here does not mean random sampling, but rather judgmental sampling, just picking a few representative hit documents and reviewing them. Were a fair number of berries found in that new search bush, or not? In our example, assume that your sample review of the documents with “Privileged” showed that the word was only part of one person’s standard signature on every one of their emails. When a new search is run wherein this custodian is excluded, the search results may now test favorably. You may devise other searches that exclude or limit the keyword “Privileged” whenever it is found in a signature.

There are many computer search tools used in a multimodal search method, but the most important tool of all is not algorithmic, but human. The most important search tool is the human ability to think the whole time you are looking for tasty berries. (The all important “T” in Professor Bates’ diagram above.) This means the ability to improvise, to spontaneously respond and react to unexpected circumstances. This mean ad hoc searches that change with time and experience. It is not a linear, set it and forget it, keyword cull-in and read all documents approach. This was true in the early days of automated search with Professor Bates berrypicking work in the late 1980s, and is still true today. Indeed, since the complexity of ESI has expanded a million times since then, our thinking, improvisation and teamwork are now more important than ever.

The goal in Step Two is to identify effective searches. Typically, that means where most of the results are relevant, greater than 50%. Ideally we would like to see roughly 80% relevancy. Alternatively, search hits that are very few in number, and thus inexpensive to review them all, may be accepted. For instance, you may try a search that only has ten documents, which you could review in just a minute. You may just find one relevant, but it could be important. The acceptable range of number of documents to review in Bottom Line Driven Review will always take cost into consideration. That is where Step-Three comes in, Estimation. What will it costs to review the documents found?

Step Three: Estimates

It is not enough to come up with effective searches, which is the goal of Steps One and Two, the costs involved to review all of the documents returned with these searches must also be considered. It may still cost way too much to review the documents when considering the proportionality factors under 26(b)(1) as discussed in Part One of this article. The plan of review must always take the cost of review into consideration.

In Part One we described an estimation method that I like to use to calculate the cost of an ESI review. When the projected cost, the estimate, is proportional in your judgment (and, where appropriate, in the judge’s judgment), then you conclude your iterative process of refining searches. You can then move onto the next Step-Four of preparing your discovery plan and making disclosures of that plan.

Step Four: Plan, Disclosures

Once you have created effective searches that produce an affordable number of documents to review for production, you articulate the Plan and make some disclosures about your plan. The extent of transparency in this step can vary considerably, depending on the circumstances and people involved. Long talkers like me can go on about legal search for many hours, far past the boredom tolerance level of most non-specialists. You might be fascinated by the various searches I ran to come up with the say 12,472 documents for final review, but most opposing counsel do not care beyond making sure that certain pet keywords they may like were used and tested. You should be prepared to reveal that kind of work-product for purposes of dispute avoidance and to build good will. Typically they want you to review more documents, no matter what you say. They usually save their arguments for the bottom line, the costs. They usually argue for greater expense based on the first five criteria of Rule 26(b)(1):

  1. the importance of the issues at stake in this action;
  2. the amount in controversy;
  3. the parties’ relative access to relevant information;
  4. the parties’ resources;
  5. the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues; and
  6. whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Still, although early agreement on scope of review is often impossible, as the requesting party always wants you to spend more, you can usually move past this initial disagreement by agreeing to phased discovery. The requesting party can reserve its objections to your plan, but still agree it is adequate for phase one. Usually we find that after that phase one production is completed the requesting party’s demands for more are either eliminated or considerably tempered. It may well now to possible to reach a reasonable final agreement.

Step Five: Final Review

Here is where you start to carry out your discovery plan. In this stage you finish looking at the documents and coding them for Responsiveness (relevant), Irrelevant (not responsive), Privileged (relevant but privileged, and so logged and withheld) and Confidential (all levels, from just notations and legends, to redactions, to withhold and log. A fifth temporary document code is used for communication purposes throughout a project: Undetermined. Issue tagging is usually a waste of time and should be avoided. Instead, you should rely on search to find documents to support various points. There are typically only a dozen or so documents of importance at trial anyway, no matter what the original corpus size.

 

I highly recommend use of professional document review attorneys to assist you in this step. The so-called “contract lawyers” specialize in electronic document review and do so at a very low cost, typically in the neighborhood of $50 per hour.  The best of them, who may often command slightly higher rates, are speed readers with high comprehension. They also know what to look for in different kinds of cases. Some have impressive backgrounds. Of course, good management of these resources is required. They should have their own management and team leaders. Outside attorneys signing Rule 26(g) will also need to supervise them carefully, especially as to relevance intricacies. The day will come when a court will find it unreasonable not to employ these attorneys in a document review. The savings is dramatic and this in turn increases the persuasiveness of your cost burden argument.

Step Six: Production

The last step is transfer of the appropriate information to the requesting party and designated members of your team. Production is typically followed by later delivery of a Log of all documents withheld, even though responsive or relevant. The withheld logged documents are typically: Attorney-Client Communications protected from disclosure under the client’s privilege; or, Attorney Work-Product documents protected from disclosure under the attorney’s privilege. Two different privileges. The attorney’s work-product privilege is frequently waived in some part, although often very small. The client’s communications with its attorneys is, however, an inviolate privilege that is never waived.

Typically you should produce in stages and not wait until project completion. The only exception might be where the requesting party would rather wait and receive one big production instead of a series of small productions. That is very rare. So plan on multiple productions. We suggest the first production be small and serve as a test of the receiving party’s abilities and otherwise get the bugs out of the system.

Conclusion

In this essay I have shown the method I use in document reviews to control costs by use of estimation and multimodal search. I call this a Bottom Line Driven approach. The six step process is designed to help uncover the costs of review as part of the review itself. This kind of experienced based estimate is an ideal way to meet the evidentiary burdens of a proportionality objection under revised Rules 26(b)(1) and 32(b)(2). It provides the hard facts needed to be specific as to what you will review and what you will not and the likely costs involved.

The six-step approach described here uses the costs incurred at the front end of the project to predict the total expense. The costs are controlled by use of best practices, such as contract review lawyers, but primarily by limiting the number of documents reviewed. Although it is somewhat easier to follow this approach using predictive coding and document ranking, it can still be done without that search feature. You can try this approach using any review software. It works well in small or medium sized projects with fairly simple issues. For large complex projects we still recommend using the eight-step predictive coding approach as taught in the TarCourse.com.



What Can Happen When Lawyers Over Delegate e-Discovery Preservation and Search to a Client, and Three Kinds of “Ethically Challenged” Lawyers: “Slimy Weasels,” “Gutless,” and “Clueless”

September 21, 2014
Sergeant Schultz of Hogan's Heros

“I see nothing, NOTHING!” Sergeant Schultz

Bad things tend to happen when lawyers delegate e-discovery responsibility to their clients. As all informed lawyers know, lawyers have a duty to actively supervise their client’s preservation. They cannot just turn a blind eye; just send out written notices and forget it. Lawyers have an even higher duty to manage discovery, including search and production of electronic evidence. They cannot just turn e-discovery over to a client and then sign the response to the request for production. The only possible exception proves the rule. If a client has in-house legal counsel, and if they appear of record in the case, and if the in-house counsel signs the discovery response, then, and only then, is outside counsel (somewhat) off the hook. Then they can lay back, a little bit, but, trust me, this almost never happens.

To see a few of the bad things that can happen when lawyers over delegate e-discovery, you have only to look at a new district court opinion in Ohio. Brown v. Tellermate Holdings Ltd., No. 2:11-cv-1122 (S.D. Ohio July 1, 2014) (2014 WL 2987051 ). Severe sanctions were entered against the defendant because its lawyers were too laid back. The attorneys were personally sanctioned too, and ordered to pay the other side’s associated fees and costs.

The attorneys were sanctioned because they did not follow one of the cardinal rules of attorney-client relations in e-discovery, the one I call the Ronald Reagan Rule, as it is based on his famous remark concerning the nuclear arms treaty with the USSR: Trust but verify

The sanctioned attorneys in Brown trusted their client’s representations to them that they had fully preserved, that they had searched for the evidence. Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with trusting your client, and that is not why they were sanctioned. They were sanctioned because they failed to go on to verify. Instead, they just accepted everything they were told with an uncritical eye. According to the author of the Brown opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp:

… significant problems arose in this case for one overriding reason: counsel fell far short of their obligation to examine critically the information which Tellermate [their client] gave them about the existence and availability of documents requested by the Browns. As a result, they did not produce documents in a timely fashion, made unfounded arguments about their ability and obligation to do so, caused the Browns to file discovery motions to address these issues, and, eventually, produced a key set of documents which were never subject to proper preservation. The question here is not whether this all occurred – clearly, it did – but why it occurred, and what, in fairness, the Court needs to do to address the situation which Tellermate and its attorneys have created.

Id. at pgs. 2-3 (emphasis added).

What is the Worst Kind of Lawyer?

slimy_weasel3Taking reasonable steps to verify can be a sticky situation for some lawyers. This is especially true for ethically challenged lawyers. In my experience lawyers like this generally come in three different varieties, all repugnant. Sometimes the lawyers just do not care about ethics. They are the slimy weasels among us. They can be more difficult to detect than you might think. They sometimes talk the talk, but never walk it, especially when the judge is not looking, or they think they can get away with it. I have run into many slimy weasel lawyers over the years, but still, I like to think they are rare.

cowardOther lawyers actually care about ethics. They know what they are doing is probably wrong, and it bothers them, at least somewhat. They understand their ethical duties, they also understand Rule 26(g), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but they just do not have the guts to fulfill their duties. They know its is wrong to simply trust the client’s response of no, we do not have that, but they do it anyway. They are gutless lawyers.

Often the gutless suffer from a combination of weak moral fibre and pocketbook pressures. They lack the economic independence to do the right thing. This is especially true in smaller law firms that are dependent on only a few clients to survive, or in siloed lawyers in a big firm without proper management. Such gutless lawyers may succumb to client pressures to save on fees and just let the client handle e-discovery. I have some empathy for such cowardly lawyers, but no respect. They often are very successful; almost as successful as the slimy weasels types that do not care at all about ethics.

ScarecrowThere is a third kind of lawyer, the ones who do not even know that they have a personal duty as an officer of the court to supervise discovery. They do not know that they have a personal duty in litigation to make reasonable, good faith efforts to try to ensure that evidence is properly preserved and produced. They are clueless lawyers. There are way too many of these brainless scarecrows in our profession.

I do not know which attorneys are worse. The clueless ones who are blissfully ignorant and do not even know that they are breaking bad by total reliance on their clients? Or the ones who know and do it anyway? Among the ones who know better, I am not sure who is worse either. Is it the slimy weasels who put all ethics aside when it comes to discovery, and are not too troubled about it. Or, is it the gutless lawyers, who know better, and do it anyway out of weak moral fortitude, usually amplified by economic pressures. All three of these lawyer types are dangerous, not only to themselves, and their clients, but to the whole legal system. So what do you think? Please fill out the online poll below and tell us which kind of lawyer you think is the worst.

 

I will not tell you how I voted, but I will share my personal message to each of the three types. There are not many slimy weasels who read my blog, but I suspect there may be a few. Be warned. I do not care how powerful and protected you think you are. If I sniff you out, I will come after you. I fear you not. I will expose you and show no mercy. I will defeat you. But, after the hearing, I will share a drink with some of you. Others I will avoid like the plague. Evil comes in many flavors and degrees too. Some slimy weasel lawyers are charming social engineers, and not all bad. The admissions they sometimes make to try to gain your trust can be especially interesting. I protect the confidentiality of their off-the-record comments, even though I know they would never protect mine. Those are the rules of the road in dancing with the devil.

The-devil-s-advocate

As to the gutless, and I am pretty sure that a few of my readers fall into that category, although not many. To you I say: grow a spine. Find your inner courage. You cannot take money and things with you when you die. So what if you fail financially? So what if you are not a big success? It is better to sleep well. Do the right thing and you will never regret it. Your family will not starve. Your children will respect you. You will be proud to have them follow in your footsteps, not ashamed. I will not have drinks with gutless lawyers.

As to the clueless, and none of my readers by definition fall into that category, but I have a message for you nonetheless: wake up, your days are numbered. There are at least three kinds of clueless lawyers and my attitude towards each is different. The first kind is so full of themselves that they have no idea they are clueless. I will not have drinks with these egomaniacs. The second type has some idea that they may need to learn more about e-discovery. They may be clueless, but they are starting to realize it. I will share drinks with them. Indeed I will try very hard to awaken them from their ethically challenged slumber. The third kind is like the first, except that they know they are clueless and they are proud of it. They brag about not knowing how to use a computer. I will not have drinks with them. Indeed, I will attack them and their stone walls almost as vigorously as the weasels.

Judges Dislike the Clueless, Gutless, and Slimy Weasels

Judges dislike all three kinds of ethically challenged lawyers. That is why I was not surprised by Judge Kemp’s sanction in Brown of both the defendant and their attorneys. (By the way, I know nothing about defense counsel in this case and have no idea which category, if any, they fall into.) Here is how Judge Kemp begins his 47 page opinion.

There may have been a time in the courts of this country when building stone walls in response to discovery requests, hiding both the information sought and even the facts about its existence, was the norm (although never the proper course of action). Those days have passed. Discovery is, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, intended to be a transparent process. Parties may still resist producing information if it is not relevant, or if it is privileged, or if the burden of producing it outweighs its value. But they may not, by directly misrepresenting the facts about what information they have either possession of or access to, shield documents from discovery by (1) stating falsely, and with reckless disregard for the truth, that there are no more documents, responsive or not, to be produced; or (2) that they cannot obtain access to responsive documents even if they wished to do so. Because that is the essence of what occurred during discovery in this case, the Court has an obligation to right that wrong, and will do so in the form of sanctions authorized by Fed. R. Civ. P. 37.

Take these words to heart. Make all of the attorneys in your firm read them. There are probably a few old school types in your firm where you should post the quote on their office wall, no matter which type they are.

Brown v. Tellermate Holdings Ltd.

Judge_KempThe opinion in Brown v. Tellermate Holdings Ltd., No. 2:11-cv-1122 (S.D. Ohio July 1, 2014) (2014 WL 2987051) by U.S. Magistrate Judge Terence Kemp in Columbus, Ohio, makes it very clear that attorneys are obligated to verify what clients tell them about ESI. Bottom line – the court held that defense counsel in this single plaintiff, age discrimination case:

… had an obligation to do more than issue a general directive to their client to preserve documents which may be relevant to the case. Rather, counsel had an affirmative obligation to speak to the key players at [the defendant] so that counsel and client together could identify, preserve, and search the sources of discoverable information.

Id. at pg. 35.

In Brown the defense counsel relied on representations from their client regarding the existence of performance data within a www.salesforce.com database and the client’s ability to print summary reports. The client’s representations were incorrect and, according to the court, had counsel properly scrutinized the client’s representations, they would have uncovered the inaccuracies.

As mentioned, both defendant and its counsel were sanctioned. The defendant was precluded from using any evidence that would tend to show that the plaintiffs were terminated for performance-related reasons. This is a very serious sanction, which is, in some ways, much worse than an adverse inference instruction. In addition, both the defendant and its counsel were ordered to jointly reimburse plaintiffs the fees and costs they incurred in filing and prosecuting multiple motions to compel various forms of discovery. I hope it is a big number.

The essence of the mistake made by defense counsel in Brown was to trust, but not verify. They simply accepted their client’s statements. They failed to do their own due diligence. Defense counsel aggravated their mistake by a series of over aggressive discovery responses and argumentative positions, including such things as over-designation of AEO confidentiality, a document dump, failure to timely log privileged ESI withheld, and refusal to disclose search methods used.

The missteps of defense counsel are outlined in meticulous detail in this 47 page opinion by Judge Terence Kemp. In addition to the great quotes above, I bring the following quotes to your attention. Still, I urge you to read the whole opinion, and more importantly, to remember its lessons the next time a client does not want you to spend the time and money to do your job and verify what the client says. This opinion is a reminder for all of us to exercise our own due diligence and, at the same time, to cooperate in accord with your professional duties. An unsophisticated client might not always appreciate that approach, but, it is in their best interests, and besides, as lawyers and officers of the court, we have no choice.

[when e-discovery is involved] Counsel still have a duty (perhaps even a heightened duty) to cooperate in the discovery process; to be transparent about what information exists, how it is maintained, and whether and how it can be retrieved; and, above all, to exercise sufficient diligence (even when venturing into unfamiliar territory like ESI) to ensure that all representations made to opposing parties and to the Court are truthful and are based upon a reasonable investigation of the facts.

 Id. at Pg. 3.

As this Opinion and Order will explain, Tellermate’s counsel:

– failed to uncover even the most basic information about an electronically-stored database of information (the “salesforce.com” database);

– as a direct result of that failure, took no steps to preserve the integrity of the information in that database;

– failed to learn of the existence of certain documents about a prior age discrimination charge (the “Frank Mecka matter”) until almost a year after they were requested;

– and, as a result of these failures, made statements to opposing counsel and in oral and written submissions to the Court which were false and misleading, and which had the effect of hampering the Browns’ ability to pursue discovery in a timely and cost-efficient manner (as well as the Court’s ability to resolve this case in the same way).

These are serious matters, and the Court does not reach either its factual or its legal conclusions in this case lightly.

Id. at pg. 4.

In addition to the idea that discovery is broad and is designed to permit parties to obtain enough evidence either to prove their claims or disprove the opposing party’s claim, discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure has been designed to be a collaborative process. As one Court observed,

It cannot seriously be disputed that compliance with the “spirit and purposes” of these discovery rules requires cooperation by counsel to identify and fulfill legitimate discovery needs, yet avoid seeking discovery the cost and burden of which is disproportionally large to what is at stake in the litigation. Counsel cannot “behave responsively” during discovery unless they do both, which requires cooperation rather than contrariety, communication rather than confrontation.

Mancia v. Mayflower Textile Servs. Co., 253 F.R.D. 354, 357-58 (D. Md. 2008). Such a collaborative approach is completely consistent with a lawyer’s duty to represent his or her client zealously. See Ruiz-Bueno v. Scott, 2013 WL 6055402, *4 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 15, 2013). It also reflects a duty owed to the court system and the litigation process.

Id. at pgs. 28-29. Also see: Losey, R. Mancia v. Mayflower Begins a Pilgrimage to the New World of Cooperation, 10 Sedona Conf. J. 377 (2009 Supp.).

Tellermate, as an entity, knew that every statement it made about its control over, and ability to produce, the salesforce.com records was not true when it was made. It had employees who could have said so – including its salesforce.com administrators – had they simply been asked. Its representations were illogical and were directly contradicted by the Browns, who worked for Tellermate, had salesforce.com accounts, and knew that Tellermate could access those accounts and the information in them. And yet Tellermate’s counsel made these untrue statements repeatedly, in emails, letters, briefs, and during informal conferences with the Court, over a period of months, relenting only when the Court decided that it did not believe what they were saying. This type of behavior violated what has been referred to as “the most fundamental responsibility” of those engaged in discovery, which is “to provide honest, truthful answers in the first place and to supplement or correct a previous disclosure when a party learns that its earlier disclosure was incomplete or incorrect.” Lebron v. Powell, 217 F.R.D. 72, 76 (D.D.C. 2003). “The discovery process created by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is premised on the belief or, to be more accurate, requirement that parties who engage in it will truthfully answer their opponents’ discovery requests and  consistently correct and supplement their initial responses.” Id. at 78. That did not happen here.

Id. at pg. 31.

But it is not fair to place the entire blame on Tellermate, even if it must shoulder the ultimate responsibility for not telling counsel what, collectively, it knew or should have known to be the truth about its ability to produce the salesforce.com information. As this Court said in Bratka, in the language quoted above at page 3, counsel cannot simply take a client’s representations about such matters at face value. After all, Rule 26(g) requires counsel to sign discovery responses and to certify their accuracy based on “a reasonable inquiry” into the facts. And as Judge Graham (who is, coincidentally, the District Judge presiding over this case as well, and whose views on the obligations of counsel were certainly available to Ms. O’Neil and Mr. Reich), said in Bratka, 164 F.R.D. at 461:

The Court expects that any trial attorney appearing as counsel of record in this Court who receives a request for production of documents in a case such as this will formulate a plan of action which will ensure full and fair compliance with the request. Such a plan would include communicating with the client to identify the persons having responsibility for the matters which are the subject of the discovery request and all employees likely to have been the authors, recipients or custodians of documents falling within the request. The plan should ensure that all such individuals are contacted and interviewed regarding their knowledge of the existence of any documents covered by the discovery request, and should include steps to ensure that all documents within their knowledge are retrieved. All documents received from the client should be reviewed by counsel to see whether they indicate the existence of other documents not retrieved or the existence of other individuals who might have documents, and there should be appropriate follow up. Of course, the details of an appropriate document search will vary, depending upon the circumstances of the particular case, but in the abstract the Court believes these basic procedures should be employed by any careful and conscientious lawyer in every case.

 Id. at pgs. 32-33.

Like any litigation counsel, Tellermate’s counsel had an obligation to do more than issue a general directive to their client to preserve documents which may be relevant to the case. Rather, counsel had an affirmative obligation to speak to the key players at Tellermate so that counsel and client together could identify, preserve, and search the sources of discoverable information. See Cache La Poudre Feeds, LLC v. Land O’ Lakes, Inc., 244 F.R.D. 614, 629 (D. Colo. 2007). In addition, “counsel cannot turn a blind eye to a procedure that he or she should realize will adversely impact” the search for discovery. Id. Once a “litigation hold” is in place, “a party cannot continue a routine procedure that effectively ensures that potentially relevant and readily available information is no longer ‘reasonably accessible’ under Rule 26(b)(2)(B).” Id.

Id. at pg. 35.

As noted above, Tellermate and its counsel also made false representations to opposing counsel and the Court concerning the existence of documents relating to the Frank Mecka matter. Indeed, at the hearing on the pending motions, Tellermate’s counsel stated that she was unaware of the existence of the great majority of the Frank Mecka documents until almost a year after they were requested. Once again, it is not sufficient to send the discovery request to a client and passively accept whatever documents and information that client chooses to produce in response. See Cache La Poudre Feeds, 244 F.R.D. at 629.

 Id. at pg. 37 (emphasis added).

There are two distinct but related problems with trying to remedy Tellermate’s failings concerning these documents. The first is the extremely serious nature of its, and counsel’s, strenuous efforts to resist production of these documents and the strident posture taken with both opposing counsel and the Court. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the way in which this was litigated is how firmly and repeatedly counsel represented Tellermate’s inability to produce these documents coupled with the complete absence of Tellermate’s compliance with its obligation to give counsel correct information, and counsel’s complete abdication of the responsibilities so well described by this Court in Bratka. At the end of the day, both Tellermate’s and its counsel’s actions were simply inexcusable, and the Court has no difficulty finding that they were either grossly negligent or willful acts, taken in objective bad faith.

Id. at pg. 43.

The only realistic solution to this problem is to preclude Tellermate from using any evidence which would tend to show that the Browns were terminated for performance-related reasons. … This sanction is commensurate with the harm caused by Tellermate’s discovery failures, and is also warranted to deter other similarly-situated litigants from failing to make basic, reasonable inquiries into the truth of representations they make to the Court, and from failing to take precautions to prevent the spoliation of evidence. It serves the main purposes of Rule 37 sanctions, which are to prevent parties from benefitting from their own misconduct, preserving the integrity of the judicial process, and deterring both the present litigants, and other litigants, from engaging in similar behavior.

Id. at pg. 45.

Of course, it is also appropriate to award attorneys’ fees and costs which the Browns have incurred in connection with moving to compel discovery concerning the salesforce.com documents and the Mecka documents, and those fees and expenses incurred in filing and prosecuting the motion for sanctions and the motion relating to the attorneys-eyes-only documents. … Finally, Tellermate and its counsel shall pay, jointly, the Browns’ reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in the filing and prosecution of those two motions as well as in the filing of any motions to compel discovery relating to the salesforce.com and Frank Mecka documents.

Id. at pgs. 45-46.

So sayeth the Court.

 Conclusion

obligatory iPhone Selfie jazzed up with ink strokes effectsThe defendant’s law firm here did a disservice to their clients by not pushing back, and by instead simply accepting their clients’ report on what relevant ESI they had, or did not have. Defense counsel cannot do that. We have a responsibility to supervise discovery, especially complex e-discovery, and be proactive in ESI preservation. This opinion shows what happens when a firm chooses not to be diligent. The client loses and the lawyers are sanctioned.

Our obligation as attorneys of record does not end with the client’s sending a litigation hold notice. If a client tells us something regarding the existence, or more pointedly, the non-existence, of electronically stored information that does not make sense, or seemingly is contradicted by other evidence, it is critical for an attorney to investigate further. The client may not want you to do that, but it is in the client’s best interests that you do so. The case could depend upon it. So could your license to practice law, not to mention your reputation as a professional. It is never worth it. It is far better to sleep well at night with a clear conscience, even if it sometimes means you lose a client, or are generally not as successful, or rich, as the few ethically challenged lawyers who appear to get away with it.



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